LEEDS could introduce free parking for electric cars as civic leaders try to forge a path to creating a clean, green and modern global gateway.
Environment bosses are considering the parking perk for green-minded drivers in the city centre as part of a raft of measures to urgently improve air quality.
It follows revelations that Leeds is at severe risk of missing its European emissions targets for 2020 – and could face fines of millions of Euros if it doesn’t up its green-friendly game.
It also comes just days after civic decision-makers unveiled ambitious plans to revitalise parts of Leeds city centre, boost the public realm and update the creaking highways network as part of a 20 year vision.
Oslo, Los Angeles and the London borough of Westminster are among a handful of world cities to have already introduced free parking for plug-in electric vehicles – with mixed levels of success.
Councillor Mark Dobson, Leeds City Council’s executive member for environmental protection and community safety, said: “With the immensely positive health benefits people could experience and the possibility of severe financial penalties, doing nothing is not an option.
“We want to put the emphasis on rewarding people who make a positive contribution to improving the city’s air quality, such as offering free or discounted parking for ultra-low emission vehicles.
“This alone isn’t going to be enough.
“So we need to think about and act on what we can all do as businesses, communities and individuals about our travel habits that will cut pollution and improve air quality.”
He added the city was already doing some good work – with a quarter of all Leeds’s municipal vehicles set to run on new technologies.
Friends of the Earth’s Simon Bowens, who lives in Leeds and drives an electric car, said the plan was “a step in the right direction” but stressed it wasn’t “the whole solution”.
“Certainly the encouragement of less polluting vehicles in the city centre is welcome, but I don’t know whether electric cars are the whole solution,” he said.
“The question is how do you get more people walking and cycling – and better public transport.
“A lot of problems come from car traffic in the city centre, so if you remove that, it is positive.
“But there are other things – such as areas like Burmantofts and Harehills getting the most HGVS – which are very polluting as well.”
He said improving charging points in the city centre was also vital as “the ability to charge your vehicle is difficult” in Leeds.
Leeds currently has around a dozen public electric car charging points, amongst them the Elland Road Park and Ride, Leeds Arena, the council-run Woodhouse Lane multi-storey and Asda in Middleton.
Public charging points can power a car up to 80 per cent in half an hour – enough for an 80 mile drive.
Mr Bowens added Leeds has some way to go before catching up with promotion of low polluting vehicles, and the North East had been “particularly good” at encouraging usage, partly due to the Nissan Leaf – the leading EV (electronic vehicle) brand – being manufactured in Sunderland.
Opposition leaders from Leeds City Council’s’s Tory and Lib Dem groups welcomed the proposals, but called for “firm action”.
Coun John Procter, Tory group deputy leader, said a free parking initiative for plug-in cars, like Norway’s trailblazing and highly successful scheme in Oslo was the sort of “imaginative approach” that Leeds should look at, and encouraged his Labour colleagues to lobby Central Government to provide extra funding.
Coun Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, warned that the city’s emissions readings could get worse before they get better, because new plans to pedestrianise some parts of the city centre would divert traffic to the inner ring road, one of the city’s worst hotspots for poor air quality.
He urged more “firm action” by the council rather than ideas.
UK sales of electric cars have seen a massive boom in the past year.
From January to September this year, Nissan’s Leaf model sold 43 per cent more than in the first nine months of 2014, and year-to-date sales are already dwarfing the 2013 total of 1,812 by more than double.
Sales of the firm’s e-NV200 electric van have also more than doubled since last year, according to a Nissan spokeswoman.